The law of the land makes consent between adults the dividing line between what becomes criminal and what is acceptable sexually. However, God’s laws have a higher threshold. His boundaries start with faithfulness and consent, then lead us into the quality of interaction between us sexually and emotionally. That quality is infused with equality.
Galatians 3:27-28 abolishes in Christ the fundamental, deep inequalities of fallen society: hierarchies, control and superiority. ‘For all of you who were baptised into Christ, have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’
Inherent in racism is the self-taking of superiority, of one person grasping more power over another. This is abhorrent to the gospel of Christ where all are equally valuable, shown in the shedding of Christ’s blood. The next abolition is ‘slave and free’. The mark of the kingdom of Christ coming is that any form of human slavery becomes anathema. The entrenched draw of this evil is illustrated by the fact that it took almost 2,000 years from the writing of Galatians to1838 when slavery was to be even abolished by law, though yet to be achieved in practice. No surprise that it took devoted Christians to achieve the initial law. And as seductive as the taking of power of one human over another divided by race or slavery, is the taking of power of one human over another within our sexuality as male and female. The Christian ethic is anti controlling power in all its shapes and forms, be that in the boardroom, the bedroom or the classroom.
As a result, I believe that any sexual behaviour that involves taking control of another human being, placing one person subjugated to another, is outside of the Christian boundaries. Sadomasochistic practices and any form of control in sex is therefore not acceptable within the Christian ethic, even when all parties are seemingly consenting.
The question of enjoying pain raises different issues. I believe God has built pain receptors into our bodies as a warning sign to protect us from damage. How else would we know not to hold our fingers in a candle flame or to stop pushing through when something hurts? Pain is a signal from a loving God whose desire is to protect our physical bodies, not to see us suffer. The book of Revelation describes the new heaven and earth that will one day be, when this fallen order passes away. This gives us a glimpse of God’s ideal heaven on earth, in which there will be ‘no more death or mourning or crying or pain.’ (Revelation 21:4) Pain is not part of God’s ideal. It is a signal that something should stop.
Some people do find themselves getting aroused by pain. However, I would see it as a signal that some psychological healing needs to take place. Sometimes past abusive experiences can have linked pain with arousal for us and so it has become a pattern or association that we are used to. It is important to own the abusive aspects of the experience and relearn healthy sexual bonding that is without any abusive traits, otherwise these patterns can cause us to become abusive ourselves to others and perpetuate the damage.
We are all on a journey sexually: the key is to make that journey towards more wholeness and freedom, and not towards stuff that will take us captive. The twist in the twin topics of control and pain in sex that you have helpfully raised, is that both are renowned as having an addictive poison in them. The wonderful thing about drawing close to Christ in our sexual journey is that he always empowers us out of things that can make us slaves to their mastery over us, and as a result we feel the peace and well-being that comes with freedom. There are more important things than just getting turned on.